Competing in this week’s Springfield Scottish Squash Open will allow Inverness’ Martin Ross a break from his day-to-day task of producing the sport’s first robotic coach in the world.
Ross, who is in the final year of a PHD in robotics at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, is returning to his hometown to compete in the PSA World Tour event which starts at Inverness Tennis and Squash club on Wednesday.
The 26-year-old’s initial inspiration for the idea came from a similar project to create a robot to help stroke sufferers in their rehabilitation.
Ross feels applying the technology to squash can aid players in their solo practice, while also allowing coaches to sustain their busy training programmes.
He said: “Part of my PHD project is creating a robotic squash coach. We have just done some user evaluations down in Edinburgh.
“We are working towards a timeline for early October to try and get a paper out of the results.
“The idea came from my PHD supervisor. We started out looking at rehabilitation after a stroke, with the idea being a robot would be able to give someone motivation and advice to adhere to their rehabilitation.
“It’s repetitive exercise over a long period of time, which is used a lot in sports as well. Squash is a prime example, as it uses a lot of solo practice sessions.
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“The idea is this robot could be used to give someone motivation and advice to improve their squash.
“Coaches are very busy, they maybe see people once a week and tell the players to go away and work on their forehand drive or whatever.
“Rather than doing it solo, we are looking at a way the robot could be there to give people some feedback.
“That’s exciting, and that will be going on along with playing the Open. That’s the same with playing any tournament, and it’s always a good distraction more than anything else.”
Having already undertaken testing, Ross hopes to step up the implementation of his project after the turn of the year.
He added: “Scottish Squash have been a big help. The robot is staying in the Scottish Squash office while we have been doing the evaluations, and we have been working with coaches from Scottish Squash and clubs all the way around Scotland.
“We have had a great response from all the coaches we have worked with, who are all excited with it.
“That’s what we wanted to do, we want to assist the coaches because of how busy and pressed for time they are.
“We did the initial tests with club level players which has just finished, and we are hoping by next Easter time or next summer we will be able to do a longer-term study with professional players as well.”
Looking to make the most of big opportunity to play in hometown event
Wildcard Ross has been paired with Englishman Nick Wall in Wednesday’s first round draw, with the winner taking on top Scottish seed Rory Stewart, of Crieff, on Thursday.
Ross is relishing the opportunity to play in the event, adding: “I have been competing in domestic PSA tournaments through lockdown, but this is my first one which isn’t just UK players.
“I’m really excited to get the chance to play some different people.
“I played squash from the age of eight, and during the school holidays I would be down at the club all the time.
“It was a massive part of my childhood and my life growing up, so it’s great to be able to go back there to play in this professional event.
“I’ll be staying with my mum so I’m sure she will keep me well fed with her lasagne as she always does.
“I’m just looking forward to giving it a shot with it being my first big PSA tournament.
“Nick Wall is a really good player. I have never played him before but I have seen him play a bit, and he has had some good results in the British Open.
“It’s great to have a chance to play people like this and gain experience whether I win or lose.
“I’m excited to see how far I can go.”